Derrick Smith says the worst has passed

Despite illness, retired veteran politician still prepared to serve in consultative role


Monday, January 22, 2018

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He believes that he got past the worst of his health challenges, and now outgoing Member of Parliament for St Andrew North Western Derrick Smith is brimming with optimism and hoping to clear professional hurdles when he hurries off into the unknown land of retirement.

Smith, 74, has resigned as MP for the constituency that he has represented for 29 unbroken years and also quit his Cabinet job as Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Office of the Prime Minister.

A heart-related health condition, which has now been rectified, and the annoying persistence of diabetes combined to push the veteran away from the political scene a year earlier than he had planned to hang up his fighting gloves.

And how has his health been these days?

“I have an appointment to see my doctors sometime in February. I am expecting that that will be my last visit, because I have been making good progress since I was last hospitalised in October of last year,” said Smith, who spent seven weeks in a Florida hospital, ending the third such trip he had made to the United States during 2017 to attend to his medical needs.

He underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery almost a year ago, and feels no ill-effect from that procedure.

Now, it's just a matter of him managing his diabetes — a scourge of thousands of Jamaican citizens.

“I have been doing the things to manage my diabetes and I am following the instructions of my doctors to a T,” Smith stated in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week.

In the midst of rumours circulating that he had lost body limbs, Smith said that he has remained focused on doing what was best for him and not be too concerned about the “negative” things that people had to say.

“Even yesterday a guy called (son) Duane and offered his condolence … said I was dead. People have been saying that I lost a foot, some say I lost two feet, but part of the problem over the last two months or so I have not been out there, so they don't see me, so it's very easy to speculate,” stated the former JLP deputy leader who also filled ministerial portfolios in national security; and mining, and functioned as Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives.

Now that he has entered the avenue of retirement, Smith plans to use his political knowledge accumulated over three decades to the advantage of the island of 2.8 million inhabitants.

“I am available. I believe I have enough knowledge of politics, I have enough knowledge of the workings of government, so I believe that I can be available to the Andrew Holness Administration. I am a fan of Andrew Holness. (Former Prime Minister) Bruce Golding said it at conference — the right man in the right place at the right time. I think Jamaica has a wonderful future with Andrew Holness as the leader of the Government and of the Labour Party and I will always support him. My options are very open.

“Horse racing has been my hobby — its not a business — it's a very expensive hobby which I have been involved in from 1976. I have been owning and racing horses since … a lot of horses including Senator D, Mr Magnificent, Mr Sensational, and Seeking My Dream the latest. I attribute my success to my trainer of 31 years, Wayne DaCosta, so my horse racing hobby will continue,” the retired parliamentarian said.

Smith described his life as “privileged”. From a working class background — his mother a housewife and his father a prison warder (now correctional officer), the eldest of eight children was raised in a middle-class environment by his aunt, a head teacher at an elementary school in the Westminster Road area of East Central St Andrew which now houses his office.

Born at Fleet Street, Central Kingston, he soon got into a position in which he “never wanted anything in life”.

By his 21st birthday, soon after spending time at Calabar High School he owned his first car and life blossomed thereafter.

“My life has been good. I was never unemployed, and I succeeded in everything I tried my hand at. I joined the Jaycees movement and got to the top at every level, president of Jamaica Jaycees, president of the West Indies Jaycees at a time when we had 13 territories; I got to the management level of GraceKennedy's subsidiary Rapid Sheffield; I worked at the management level at Goodyear, Morant Bay, so I always had leadership in me. The Jaycees matured it.

“It was after that that I went into politics. (Former Prime Minister Edward) Seaga saw me in the Jaycees, called me, appointed me to the Senate, I got involved in 1978 working on the ground, was appointed a senator in 1980 and when the 1983 (general) election came which the PNP ran away from, I got my shoo-in downtown and the rest is history,” Smith stated.

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